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James Tupper Interview

A lot of medical dramas have been coming out in the past few years, and I find some a lot more interesting than others.  This year is no different with some crashing out of the gate, and some finding steady ground on an otherwise shaky network.  One of the main reasons I’ve continually gone back to Mercy, NBC’s latest hospital-based effort, is the wonderful James Tupper, formerly of Men In Trees.  He plays an Iraq-war veteran coming back to rekindle the flame he had over there, only to find out that his lady is back with her hubby.  James called me up yesterday to talk about why he loves the show, what famous actress he’s pretty sure wants to guest star, and what else he has coming up.

Tell me what it was about Mercy that made you want to be a part of it!

I liked the way it was written.  It was simple but powerful, using the events of the hospital to be metaphors for what was happening with the people.  I like that it wasn’t always in the hospital, that they take it outside, and I like the fact that Liz Heldens, she wrote for Friday Night Lights, had this great record with dealing with human issues in really small, subtle observations on human life, the way human life really happens.  I sensed that they were going to do it in that documentary style, you know they got in and out really quick, a lot of handheld, and the shooting would be flexible.  They really let the actors participate in the creating of scenes.  It’s wonderful, it’s a very fun process. I think you can see in the work that the actors on the show are having fun.

You’re right, it seems relaxed, you can tell everyone’s enjoying themselves.   There is a sense that it’s different and that you’re having a good time.

Thanks, we’re definitely having a blast doing it!

We’ve seemed to hit another year where a lot of medical shows, dramas, have come out.  What do you think makes Mercy stand out among the rest?

I often jokingly say, “Because I’m on it,” because I don’t think there’s a simple answer to that question.  I think it’s chemistry.  Does the show work?  Does it work?  Lloyd Braun told a really great story.  They had 6 medical dramas in a row, every year, fail, and then they had Grey’s Anatomy in the 7th year.  And it was like, well, does it work?  And then it worked, so let’s do it again, and of course it became the number one show on TV.  I think it just works.  I think the answer is simple.  How do you explain that it does work, I don’t know [laughs]!

Did you have to do any medical training in playing a doctor or playing an Iraq war vet?

Just push-ups and sit-ups! [laughs]  No I’m joking!  I think there is always a doctor on set that helps us out. Technically, it’s a high demand.  You have to rise to the occasion and figure out all the medical stuff.  We actually have contact with the UCLA outreach program that is helping us get accurate medical information out to people.  It’s a community service they provide for the entertainment industry.  They realize that most of public, or at least some of the public, is getting their medical information from television shows.  I get to actually talk on the phone to doctors that work in Iraq.  I just did an arterial embolization and I was like, ok, and I talked to a doctor who had just performed that function a few days before.  

It’s nice that you’re not going blindly into it.  You actually sound like you know what you’re talking about!

Yeah, it certainly helps, doesn’t it? [laughs]  Every once in a while, there’s a really funny gaffe, you know, they give you a word that you say completely wrong.

What can we expect from upcoming episodes?

I just an amazing week working with Jerry Stiller and Anne Meara. I cannot believe how fantastic they are.  That’s one thing, I have a disastrous make-out session with Michelle Trachtenberg.  I can’t say that it’s a hard days work [laughs].  

You started to see a bit of that in the last episode – and you start wondering if you’re going to see your character try to pursue things with Veronica, or if they’re going to go there with Chloe.  Sounds like we get a little of Chloe!

[laughs] Obviously, I can’t tell you too much, but those are my two teasers!

They’re great teasers – Jerry Stiller and Anne Meara – they’re huge!  That actually was one of my questions – are you working with any great guest stars!

Well, I know Anne Heche wanted to do one.

I wonder who we should talk to to get her on the show ha!

She’s going to try to come in and do one.  She wants to do one, she supports it.  She’s a fan of the show, believe it or not! Isn’t that great?  I don’t really tell her too much about what’s happening.  She never sees it all put together until she watches it on Wednesday nights.  But that’s so great, because all of her friends get together in Los Angeles and they sit down and watch the show, because I shoot in New York, and they all call me, screaming after.  It’s very discreet.

I’m sure it’s difficult to go from shooting together, to shooting on opposite locations.

The funny thing about dating Anne is that sometimes I look at her and I feel like I’m watching a movie.  I’m like, wow, 6 Days, 7 Nights, I love that.  Oh wait, it’s real! [laughs].  She’s just a great supportive people.  We’re making it work, doing everything that adults do to make it work!

And congratulations on Atlas – last time we talked, he wasn’t around yet!

Oh my god, we should have called him Hat-las, he’s got no hair, the guy!  Sugarplum, he’s been such a blessing!

Going back to the show – is there a favorite scene that you’ve shot so far?

There’s a scene that I’m optimistic about tonight; I haven’t seen it all cut together.  We’ll have to talk later, I feel optimistic about it, I’m excited about it. Sometimes the scenes are to give medical data, and they function that way, but sometimes scenes are more challenging.  They’re more emotional.  I leave the hospital on Wednesday.  They follow me out of the hospital for the first time ever, so I have more personal stuff.

Will you have more interaction with Diego (Klattenhoff)?  I think it’s so funny that you guys are on this show together, too!  Do you have more interaction with him, too?

We have a giant scene coming up! [laughs]  If that’s not giving away too much!

What are you saying to people if they ask “why should I watch this show?” besides “well I’m on it” ha!

Why they should tune in?  I think it’s a great show.  I’m really proud of it.  I think it offers something to everybody.

What I noticed right away is that it is a medical drama, it is set in Mercy Hospital, but I feel like it’s more a relationship drama than a medical drama first, or an emotional drama.

I think she’s very good at using the medical situations that come up to somehow always reflect what’s going on with the characters.  It’s a bit like alchemy, I don’t know how she does it, but at the end of an episode, I’m always quite moved, even though I’m in the show!

Is there anything else coming up for you?

November 25, I’m in a movie that Richard Linklater directed called “Me and Orson Welles”.  I play the old time Joseph Cotton, do you know him?

I don’t know him, no.  Maybe I would recognize his face.

Joseph Cotton, he was in “The Third Man”, he did probably 50 movies, he did an Alfred Hitchcock movie “Shadow of a Doubt”.  He’s just done tons of things, I think you would probably recognize him.  He was in Citizen Kane.  He was the reporter.  He’s like a kind of an old time movie-star.  He’s passed away now, he was like a leading guy.  The movie’s based on a production that he and Orson Welles did of Julius Caesar in 1937, in New York.  Zac Efron’s in it, and Claire Danes, so I’m very excited that it’s coming out!

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